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This article in AJ

  1. Vol. 104 No. 3, p. 621-628
    Received: Sept 28, 2011

    * Corresponding author(s): john.teasdale@ars.usda.gov
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Reduced-Tillage Organic Corn Production in a Hairy Vetch Cover Crop

  1. John R. Teasdale *a,
  2. Steven B. Mirskya,
  3. John T. Spargoa,
  4. Michel A. Cavigellia and
  5. Jude E. Maula
  1. a USDA-ARS Sustainable Agricultural Systems Lab, Beltsville, MD 20705


There is interest in developing no-tillage systems for organic farming; however, potential limitations include the inability to control weeds and to provide sufficient crop available N. A 3-yr field experiment was conducted on organically certified land to explore roller-crimper technology for terminating a hairy vetch (Vicia villosa Roth) cover crop in a reduced-tillage compared to a disk-tillage organic corn (Zea mays L.) production system in Maryland. Within this tillage comparison, factors including the corn planting date and post-plant cultivation were examined for optimizing reduced-tillage organic corn production. Corn yield in roll-killed hairy vetch treatments where corn was planted by mid-June and that received high-residue cultivation was similar or higher than the best treatments with disk-killed hairy vetch. Delayed corn planting dates had little impact on corn yield in either disk- or roll-killed treatments, a result consistent with the similarity in weed biomass after cultivation, fertility, moisture, and radiation across planting dates. In 2 yr with supplemented weed populations, weed biomass was the major driver determining corn yield, which was reduced by 53 to 68% relative to weed-free control plots in the absence of post-plant cultivation, and by 21 to 28% with post-plant cultivation. In a year with low, natural weed populations, weeds had no significant influence on yield. These results demonstrate that organic corn production in a reduced-tillage roll-killed cover crop system can provide similar yields to those in a traditional tillage-based system, but also highlight the importance of maintaining low weed populations to optimize corn yield.

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